Something of the Night.
The new book is out. I’ve always done an introduction to the books, and posted them on this site; this is a first pass, really.
I got the idea for a book about the night in 2008, and envisaged taking a similar approach to the one I took in Parallel Lines and The Longest Crawl. This is to say, I’d travel and I’d do a huge amount of reading around the history of my subject before I started writing. The travel would be easy; I’d visit, oh I don’t know, criminals and prostitutes, go to a sleep clinic, and fill a few shelves in a supermarket at night, that kind of thing, and then use carefully chosen historical examples from the hundred or so secondary sources which I’d read to illuminate my experiences.
I’d pitched and sold the idea before I found that, rather than hundreds of secondary sources, there is, in essence, just one, A. Roger Ekrich’s astounding history of nighttime, ‘At Day’s Close.’ I found that on day one. I also found Al Alvarez’s marvellous ‘Night’, where he did something pretty much identical to what I’d had in mind; and Sukhdev Sandhu’s ‘Night Haunts’, a fascinating and contemporary series of psycho-geographicalesque accounts of how people spent their nights in London. All on day one. Unhappy bunny.
Although I had access to some excellent primary sources, I didn’t feel that I wanted to go over the same ground as Alvarez or Sandhu, and I certainly didn’t want to regurgitate huge chunks of Ekrich’s masterpiece; and I wasn’t sure how to avoid it. So I did something else. I wrote the story of my nights, my darkness, and hoped that it would resonate with readers. Set across the course of an intoxicated night in West Cork, it starts light, gets very dark, and ends with a ray of light (I hope). So it’s a memoir, with some travel, rather than a travel book with a bit of memoir. It’s the most close-up and personal thing I’ve done, and I think that makes it all but uncategorisable. Which is good, if you’re a writer, because it makes you think you’ve pulled off something original; but annoying if you’re a bookseller, maybe. I hope readers like it, and forgive me the crimes, stoned theology, attempts to visit hookers and night sweats; and I hope that if they go on to read Ekrich, Alvarez, and Sandhu, they agree, at least, that I tried to do something different with my nights.
Well – no criticism there of course – I guess with it being big in your home town there is always the feeling that you don’t need to go to Lewes anyway.
I’ve also shared your view that when you go to other towns and cities they don’t really know how to do bonfire night – when I went to University (midlands big city) I went to the bonfire night run by the city – and it was the 1st time (I kid you not….) it dawned on me that other places didn’t really know how to do a proper firework display!! (Never mind mark the occasion in suitable style).
I suppose it’s a sheltered upbringing being in Lewes on Nov 5th….
Other thing last year at East Hoathly – they seem to have done some sort of banger clampdown – police searching groups of youths entering the village for bangers – and parade in virtual silence as being banger free – can’t see the reason for that really – then at the end all the bonfire boys (and gals) seemed to get corralled into one area where they could let off bangers – which went on incessently for about 45 mins to 1 hour just endless bangers in one place – not really quite right at all.
It’s health and sa……
No I didn’t want to say that either!
Thanks Dan. It’s kind of shaming that I took so long to go to Lewes. Just wasn’t something we thought of in the 70’s. Did it seem a bit old-fashioned and naff? really not sure. But it aws just something that never occured to me and m’pals.
Just read the ‘Bonfire Boys’ chapter and as a Lewes aficionado of many years – at least back to the 80s – I must say I found it very moving.
I’ve always found it virtually impossible to convey the sense of the event to non Sussex residents (esp. my catholic friends…) and I find pictures and film don’t help at all – but you’ve done a top job in that chapter Ian – I felt a sense of local pride well up in me at the same time as musing over the inherent ‘ideological’ problems you so clearly try to get to grips with.
Have to say though, if things in Northern Ireland get to the stage of people blacking up and going round in fancy dress to mark the era of catholic and protestant division – that might be an outcome to the ‘troubles’ I’d be happy with!
Can’t believe you did not go up from Newhaven as a youth though – so do you not recall the time when the Cliffe bonfires were not only free but held in that rather small natural amphitheatre where you could climb up the sloping sides of what may have been some old chalk pit and look down on the fire – high risk no doubt as if you fell or gravitated downwards you were heading for the fire! Never thought much about that as we swigged our bottles of Merrydown!
There is one issue I’m really unhappy about – nearest bonfire to me is East Hoathly – there as you may know they mark the villagers who dies in both world wars as the bonfire night is closest Saturday to remembrance Sunday – so it goes with the Last Post, minute of silence etc (accompanied by burger van generators natch).
They also march down the village street with a burning cross held by a villager – one cross for each villager killed in each world war (so about 30 in total I think). As I recall their names are read out. It’s certainly a way of keeping their sacrifice ‘alive’.
Or, rather they did march with burning crosses. I’d skipped a couple of years but was there in November, and shocked to see the burning crosses replaced by burning something else – poppy outlines I think. I must say that I was pretty appalled that they would presume that so many people thought the cross was some sort of KKK symbol that they must have felt forced to change it recently….
I mean – are we going to get to a situation where the Church decides to drop the cross because some crazy southerners (US not UK) have hijacked it? I’m tempted to say …It’s political corre…… but I won’t!
Well done on a great chapter.
i’ll be sending you some answers by the end of the week…
Many thanks Ian. I have emailed over the questions.
Huge pleasure. Of course. Thank you.
I’d like to ask if you’d be interested in participating in a “Meet the Author” post on my website. Obviously, I’m aware you’re more than likely very busy at the moment what with your book being recently launched, so feel free to say no, but if you don’t ask you don’t get (as they say)… so I’m asking!
My “Meet the Author” posts are in their early days at the moment, but so far I’ve interviewed Catherine Ryan Hyde and Ben Fogle (http://notesoflife.co.uk/category/books/meet-the-author/) and I think it would be great to feature a local author. All I do is email over a set of questions (usually around 10) for the author to answer in their own time. Or you could do a guest post if you’d prefer (but that’s being cheeky of me!).
Either way, if you would like to participate then as a thank you I will giveaway 1 copy of ‘Something of the Night’ to somebody who comments on that post.
Thanks for your time 🙂
Er…no. Thank you Catherine.
Ian, your book has made me think differently about the night, and how it changes my perceptions of place. It’s made me stand in my garden at 11pm and look up at the sky, properly. It’s made me aware of our local (Sussex) foxes and their night-time shenanigans.
As a writer, it’s made me want to set fictional scenes at night, too, to see how my characters’ perceptions and behaviour changes. So, thank you!
Thank you very much Clare! Ferguson’s was amazing; they are still happy to show people round…
I should have remembered to read this before reading the book, but think I worked most of it out anyway. Did indeed as predicted end up reading it at night, but fell asleep after half a dozen pages at my first attempt – it had been a stressful day. Second night got to p198 by ten to two; then finished it between 11.30 and 1 the following night. Loved it – the resonances just continued to roll – laughed a lot – cried once, which is very unusual for me. In the obvious place, of course. Would have liked more about Holywood and Presteigne – next time, perhaps? Cannot believe you somehow worked Ferguson’s linen factory into it – I have been there, with Alex, when he was a small boy – as part of a ‘Linen Homelands Tour’ which was a tourist wheeze thought up by the Northern Ireland tourist board before they got so completely obsessed by the Titanic. Punters foregathered at the Banbridge tourist office and were taken round various sites including Fergusons in a minibus. Brilliant. When I read ‘Parallel Lines’ we hadn’t met but a bonus of this one was hearing a lot of it in my head in your voice. I too will now need to order ‘The Longest Crawl’.
Just in case there’s any doubt – this is a story of the night well worth reading. Play on, maestro, the darkness is yours.
Thank you very much Nikki-ann.
I’ve just finished (and reviewed) Something of the Night and I may now have to grab a copy of The Longest Crawl… or was the The Longest Mile? 😀
If you’re interested, the review can be found at http://notesoflife.co.uk/2012/01/something-of-the-night-the-review/
Sho’was. Cut with Old Holborn, as I recall. Gleeful days.
I finished the book this morning, after sitting up till 2.15 to do so, way past my normal time. Still woke up at 5.30 as per usual though. Go me.
So, I’d like to congratulate you on a tale well told. You’re becoming much more complete as a writer with every book, aren’t you? Your failings and weaknesses are definitely your strengths, I’d say.
All very best wishes to you and yours, and once again, thank you kindly.
I wonder if you recognize yourself Graham? I think you might. All-night garage, wasn’t it?
I found the book on my doorstep this morning, courtesy of the lovely people at amazon. And the bloke who delivers the mail too. So thank you to you and them.
I’d hoped to put the book away and save it for airport and plane reading next week, but you know me; no will power, utter lack of moral fibre etc, so I’ve got as far as p132 so far which isn’t bad as since I started on it I’ve had a half hour phone convo with my youngest daughter in Cairns, squeezed in a visit to my dad, and had a visit from my oldest with her kids etc. And had dinner. So that’s not bad going really is it? I’ve developed quite a taste for amaretto and coke today too. Is this a mid-life crisis? There’s planty of the old Balvenie in the bottle still.
Anyway, enjoying the book quite immensely so far, especially the episode with the customs officer at the petrol kiosk. Seems to tinkle a small bell or two, does that tale.
So. When I see you next I’ll have finished it. I’ll keep it with me at all times, probably take it to Poland for a second helping. It will be a well travelled copy, and I’ve got to find a way of denying Stu and Doyle a borrow as I doubt that I’d ever see it again if either of them got their hands on it. Speaking from experience that is.
It was worth waiting for Ian, so thanks. And all best wishes to you & Hilary for a very happy new year. Me and Anita will have a happy new year’s evening next week. She’s at work tonight and tomorrow night. She’s one of those special people who do nights.
All the best to you. x